Episode 42: Fresh Out Of Tokens
Elizabeth and Flourish talk to Tanya DePass, host of a podcast of the same name, founder of I Need Diverse Games, and author of a whole lot of Dragon Age fanfiction. They discuss gaming, fan/creator interaction, intersectionality, politics, and more. They also share a listener letter about game fandom and discuss the place of art in times of political crisis.
[00:02:08] Episode 41: “Fandom Trumps Hate.”
[00:04:29] The Tumblr in question is @fandomtrumpshateaction!
[00:08:21] That Coke ad, which yes, was originally from 2014:
[00:09:41] The potato quote, one more time:
Did you see The Martian with Matt Damon? He’s got a big thing he’s trying to solve, which is that he’s stuck on Mars and he has to get back to Earth. And they spent a lot of time in the movie on the fact that he has to figure out how to grow potatoes on Mars.
The potatoes on Mars do not actually get him back to Earth. He’s not actually solving the problem. But if he doesn’t have potatoes, he’s not going to live long enough to solve the problem and get back to Earth.
So to me, my hope is, the songs that you love, the books that you love, the TV that you love, the conversations that you have about people that are kind of nourishing to you, help you—those are your potatoes… And you have to have that stuff in order to make it long enough to get back to Earth.
[00:18:21] Our voice mail number! 1-401-526-3267
[00:19:33] Interstitial music is from Glitch, the much-missed game.
[00:21:06] You know we’re gonna link you to Tanya’s AO3 profile 😃
[00:22:41] Mafia 3:
If you think this sounds awesome, then go read some fanfic about Lincoln Clay, the protagonist of Mafia 3, who is pictured below:
[00:37:31] We ALL love @euclase!
[00:38:26] “Porosity” is too a word!
[00:41:29] David Gaider on Out of Tokens - what a great interview!
[00:44:25] Yeah we aren’t contributing to Leslie Jones and entitled fans ~discourse. You can google it. Have some happy Leslie Jones instead!
[00:50:54] Fox Harrell’s work was covered in Boing Boing awhile back.
[00:52:21] If you don’t know GaymerX, why don’t you?
[00:59:51] In case you missed it, here’s our interview with Evan Narcisse (AKA “that other time we focused on gaming”).
[01:03:50] More of the same track from Glitch.
[01:12:28] As always, you should feel free to kick us money on Patreon! ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: [laughs] There’s that old enthusiasm.
ELM: All right. All right. Episode 42, “Fresh Out Of Tokens.” Which is the title of the podcast of our guest.
FK: Yes! Our guess, Tanya DePass, who is possibly most well known for starting the hashtag #INeedDiverseGames and then the nonprofit which has come out of the hashtag, but who is—in addition to being a Twitter commentator and nonprofit runner and prolific video game streamer—also an author of a lot of Dragon Age fanfiction. And I’m really excited to talk to her because I feel like she combines all the things we love to talk about with gaming, which we have not talked about as much, and I’m excited to get into.
ELM: Yeah! I, I can’t expand on that. You really, that’s everything.
FK: [laughs] OK!
ELM: I am also excited to talk to her! I want to out-excite you. I am the most excited to talk to her.
FK: Is this a competition?
ELM: Yes. It always is.
FK: Always. OK. But before we call her you had some things that you wanted to talk about because we didn’t cover everything we needed to with Fandom Trumps Hate last time.
ELM: Why are you pointing at me? You literally are pointing at me when you say “you” have things to talk about. WE have to talk about them together as a unit.
FK: OK, I guess we can have togetherness.
ELM: I don’t know, why is there so much finger pointing in this podcast today?
FK: I don’t know, my finger is just pointy.
ELM: Up, ready to go? So last episode, we talked to Fandom Trumps Hate. If you didn’t listen to it, go listen to it. But if for some reason you don’t have time for that or don’t want to, they are a charity auction, they finished probably weeks ago now, right?
ELM: That was organized after the election and basically how it worked was fanfiction writers, fanartists, other fan creators offered their services and then people bid on them, and the winning bids donated their bid amount to various charities, provided proof of that donation, and then the fan creators created works for them or they're actively doing that right now.
FK: Yeah, I don’t think that they have all finished yet. I would be shocked if they all had.
ELM: If you are a fan creator doing this right now, thank you, keep going. And they raised in the end $32,000 for a variety of charities that are fighting various Trump administration agendas. So that’s incredible. But during the conversation we were like, “What can we do? What are some more steps we can take?” And we did not have that information, but now they’ve given it to us.
FK: Yes, because they have started an action wing—action wing? That makes it sound like a bird with one floppy wing and one action wing.
ELM: Is that the guy, what was his name, he had his own show, but sometimes he came on Ducktales…
FK: Darkwing Duck?
ELM: Yeah! [laughs] No no no! I’m not thinking of Darkwing Duck. I’m thinking of, he’s like…he wears like an old fashioned pilot’s uniform, he’s a very tall and muscular duck, and he’s kind of triangle-shaped, Gaston-shaped.
FK: No, I can see who you're talking about but I don’t think he has his own show.
ELM: Darkwing Duck was a catastrophe…
FK: Darkwing Duck WAS a catastrophe. This all came off of Action Wing…
ELM: HOLD ON.
FK: [laughing] OK.
ELM: [obviously googling] Duck…tales… [sings the Ducktales theme]
FK: We’re just reverting here! How did this happen? Why did we go from Fandom Trumps Hate—
ELM: LAUNCHPAD MCQUACK.
FK: LAUNCHPAD MCQUACK!! OK. So it’s like Launchpad McQuack over there.
ELM: What did you say it was like? Action Wing. It’s like a Launchpad McQuack. I don’t know where I got to that but that’s fine.
FK: OK. So, the Fandom Trumps Hate team has pulled together this Tumblr called Fandom Trumps Hate Action, which is basically a clearinghouse for people to learn about how they can take action against Trump and for people to organize so what they say about this is, I’m going to quote directly from their Tumblr blog, they say that they’re going to “link to information about organizations and projects that can help you get involved in your own community, reblog existing posts on political subjects,” which they’re going to add “sources, fact checking and background information on the reliability of the sources, present detailed sourced profiles of politicians when they come up as important or influential players,” so like, you’ll know about a congressman who’s just introduced an important bill so that you’re better able to talk about those issues, and “share practical tips for the day to day work of surviving an authoritarian state, ways to resist that will have an impact as well as stories about successful resistance efforts,” bullet point four there just brought us into the reality of 2017, oh God. [ELM laughs] I was just like do do do, all of these things are such great, reporting, telling you how to get involved in political life—
ELM: Civic engagement!
FK: And then “resisting an authoritarian state.” Well that is, that is this year.
ELM: Yeah, but don’t you already think about all those things when you say those other things? Did you see this discourse during the Super Bowl which was interesting… The Super Bowl was actually very interesting for me. Fandom…I don’t know why I was hesitating on saying “fan studies,” I guess I don’t want to claim that mantle. But did you follow any of it? What were you doing during the Super Bowl?
FK: I was on a train.
ELM: OK. Did you notice—
FK: And then I was trying to avoid the people burning cars in Boston near my house. My street was blocked off because my street is right by where people go to celebrate when Boston wins the Super Bowl.
ELM: Cause you live in like, Boston-Boston, you don’t live in one of the good parts of Boston.
FK: I live, the closest subway stop to me is right by Fenway Park. I live in Boston-Boston, celebrating-sports-Boston.
ELM: You should go to the other side of the river.
FK: No, I used to live there. I like it here.
ELM: All right, all right, fine. Anyway it was super interesting because from a fandom perspective, in the sense of…you saw this whole thing, Tom Brady is a big Trump fan, anyone who doesn’t follow the sportsball Tom Brady is the quarterback of the New England Patriots, who won the Super Bowl this year. And the owner of the Pats is a Trump buddy as well. And so then all these people—
FK: Which is kinda hilarious because Massachusetts is the leftiest lefty that ever leftied.
ELM: I tweeted about this! Cause everyone was like “MASSACHUSETTS, THEY’RE GARBAGE, this garbage Trump place” and I tweeted, I was like “Hello, Massachusetts and Hawaii were the two states”—cause I knew Massachusetts had done this—”where every single county went blue.” And Boston by an extraordinary margin, better than New York, it was 80+ percent. So that’s weird. Anyway, this was super weird and all the parallels too. And there were all these commercials and they were all very diverse, about celebrating diversity, and felt like very progressive things, and everyone was like “This is a big fuck you to Trump with all these commercials!” It was like, some of these commercials were shot months ago!
FK: They were planned a long time ago! They were all shot months ago. Even the one with Tom Brady—I think one of the things that were most misleading if you don’t think about this very much is that there was a commercial where Tom Brady was wearing all of his Super Bowl rings including the one from when they won.
ELM: This year.
FK: That was shot months ago. And he had to shoot a different version where he didn’t have all the Super Bowl rings.
ELM: That’s really funny.
FK: So it’s a fake Super Bowl ring in that commercial and it is, you know.
ELM: Right. And even the one of them—I don’t know if this is true, I haven’t fact checked this, but I saw that the Coke one that everyone was talking about where they were singing one of those American songs.
FK: An American song?
ELM: The one that ends with “sea to shining sea.” America the Beautiful.
ELM: In all these different languages. And it was a very moving commercial at this moment. And I heard that it was shot in 2014. So it’s not a response to Trump in any way, he wasn’t on the scene in this way, so people were saying, it just shows how skewed we’ve been. How our entire…so when you’re like “Oh, hear what your congressman’s saying,” I can only think “Your congressman is either fighting or supporting Trump!” You know?
FK: I do know.
ELM: Anyway. That’s a long rabbit hole I just went down.
FK: Anyway now that we’re out of the rabbit hole, the point is: Fandom Trumps Hate Action, good Tumblr, go follow it, if you would like a low-volume blog that is going to keep you updated on these things.
ELM: You know it’s gonna be low-volume?
FK: They’ve said it’s gonna be low-volume.
ELM: Oh! All right. Great, perfect!
ELM: Great, awesome. So I don’t know. One other thing before we go and talk to Tanya that’s related to this whole thing and to that episode that I’ve been thinking about, is I saw that people were reacting really strongly and positively to the Linda Holmes quote about the potatoes.
FK: Mm-hmm. I had a bunch of people say like, “That quote, that quote!”
ELM: Which is, to mangle it very briefly, it’s about how Matt Damon in The Martian needs to make potatoes on Mars while he figures out how to get back to Earth? [FK laughs] Is that correct?
FK: MAKE POTATOES? Yes, that’s basically correct.
ELM: Mash ’em.
FK: Matt Damon makes potatoes.
ELM: Fry them.
FK: Sounds like a domestic AU, not like someone’s stranded on Mars, but we’re gonna move on from that.
ELM: By “make” I mean “farm.”
FK: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in their Boston kitchen.
ELM: Makin’ potatoes!!
FK: Makin’ potatoes, celebratin’ the Pats! And also being angry with Tom Brady for being a filthy Trump supporter.
ELM: Can Chris Evans show up?
FK: Chris Evans can tooooootally show up. I’m gonna write this fic. And then they’re gonna go out and burn a car.
ELM: Is Matt Wahlberg gonna be in the streets burning a car?
FK: No, he’s not—yeah, he’s gonna be the—
ELM: Did I just say “Matt Wahlberg”?
FK: Marky Mark. Call the man “Marky Mark” as he should be called. Anyway, move on move on move on.
ELM: So potatoes, and the metaphor is that he needed to farm these potatoes while he figured out how to get back to Earth. So she was saying that things you love, the art you consume or create, those are your potatoes as you figure out how to get back to Earth. And I found that to be very helpful and one thing I wanted to talk about before we go to the break is this week I saw one of my favorite writers ever, George Saunders, who I don’t think—you said you hadn’t read?
FK: Not much.
ELM: Oh. You should! He’s so good, he’s so weird, all his stories. I know you read—
FK: I like weird!
ELM: I know probably people read, like, if you read mostly strange speculative fiction all the time it probably doesn’t seem that weird. But he’s just, I find him to be a deeply empathetic and kind person, at least that’s the way he presents, I doubt he has a secret double life where he’s a jerk. So at his event for his first novel, which is incredibly exciting, here in Brooklyn on Wednesday, someone in the audience got up and asked a question, said that he wanted to be a writer, he had a day job, every day he used to come home and work on his novel really diligently. The last few months he’s been like “Why bother?” Which is something that I think both you and I have been—
FK: STRUGGLING WITH.
ELM: [laughs] Yeah. George Saunders gave a really good answer and I wish I could paraphrase it but I feel like he also said the kind of same line of thinking in an interview that I found. Should I read a little bit of that?
FK: Do it!
ELM: OK. Let’s see. “Those of us who are in the arts and journalism, we have a secret weapon which is long term thinking that produces long term values. This is a crazy storm, the craziest one that I’ve ever seen in my life, but I’m not young. But we do have a stability that comes from these practices of being engaged. I think that what's happened, just speaking for myself, I decided to be a writer when I was maybe 24 and in Asia and it seemed so glamorous. Quickly I saw that culture didn’t think about short story writing the way I thought about it. It was kind of marginalized, a sweet little thing, like if you did paper swans or something, origami. So I was OK with that, but I think that part of the reason we’re in such a stupid place, that we’re such victims to this banal aggression that the Trump movement used, is because we allowed art to be marginalized.
“And I don't know who ‘we’ is exactly. I don’t know how ‘we’ did it. But if you look at what art means to us, it mostly means ‘a frill.’ It means something kind of on the side. And if you buy into what I said earlier, the artistic mind is vast and can solve problems better than any other mind, with happier outcomes for everybody, it’s a real tragedy that we’ve put it off to the side.”
And then he goes on to kind of take it up to the next level and talk about language itself and how language has been slowly chipped away at to now where it’s completely devalued, which not just to say that our president is a rambling incoherent mess, but also that they’re performing all these rhetorical tricks that, you know, allow them to—bald-faced lies to just come out and be alternative truths, things like that. And later when I got my book signed I told him that I thought, cause he had said something similar, I told him that I find it very helpful and a way of framing it in, the art is more important than ever wankiness of that, that didn’t make it feel wanky.
ELM: He said then, he was like, “Also, don’t let him take this from you. Fuck that guy.” And that was also, helped me, steer me forward. It’s true. Why are we letting him impose on everything? Why are we interpreting every commercial as if it’s directly about him? You know? It kinda lets him put his stupid—I don’t wanna make fun of his hand size. I do. But you know, his stupid paws all over basic human values, you know? It lets him be at the center of it and whether something is against him or not. I think all of this has been really helpful for making me realize that we’re all guilty of this. And me saying “I don’t really have, I don’t really think this is worth my time right now” just further diminishes what we’re all trying, what we’ve all been working maybe inadvertently to diminish for a very long time. So, so yeah.
ELM: End speech. Go ahead. Respond.
FK: It’s interesting because obviously, like, I work at that intersection where there’s people who are making art and people who are putting value, sometimes very high value, on it, right? Somebody writes a screenplay and it can be worth a lot of money depending on who they are and who they sell the screenplay to and how it works, right. One interesting thing was that everybody in my office definitely came in the day after and was like, “What are we doing?” and then the immediate response was, “Well, I guess that fortunately we can have some impact because we can make movies, we can make things that are going to be reflecting our values instead of some weird twisted anti-American values,” right. But it’s more than the devaluing of it, I guess, is…it’s more than just the question of how much money are you paid to make a piece of art, right. It’s more of a, when you first say that, when you’re like, “art is devalued in our society,” I think the first thing is like, “Oh, well, artists don’t get paid, artists aren’t respected,” but I feel like there’s more to it than that. It’s also an everyday, what you define as “work” or as “valuable” in the things you do on a daily basis.
FK: You know what I mean, when I sit down to write a blog post or a Tumblr post or something, do I consider that a creative act? I don’t usually. But it is. Right? Even though it’s a very tiny little—
ELM: Your blog posts? You think those are creative acts?
FK: [laughing] Thank you, jerk brain!
ELM: I think even the fact that you asked this question, I mean, I guess I don’t have a really great—I’m trying to think of the various conversations I’ve had, cause I have a bunch of different clients, and several of them are magazines. Particularly one is The New Yorker and I went there the day after the election and there was no conversation about “What’s the point of it all?”
FK: I think The New Yorker knows what the point of this is!
ELM: Yeah, David Remnick stompin’ around, he’s ready to go! And maybe the culture section of various magazines are gonna have those questions. But I think the fact that we even ask those questions—whereas we were just talking about this earlier and we’re like, “Do people who make chairs, do they go into the chair-making place the next day and be like, ‘what’s the point of this?’”
FK: [laughing] What’s the point of chairs?
ELM: You say “everyone needs to sit on something,” well, you know, then you’re saying…
FK: I don’t know, I can sit on the floor. I actually spend a lot of time sitting on the floor in my tiny house!
ELM: I’m grateful for chairs. But then you’re basically saying, like he said, “Art is a frill.” And I just feel like…it’s really hard to find that balance to say…I, again, don’t think anyone should be burying their head in the sand and saying “I’m just gonna sit here and write fanfiction.” But I wish that we could remove some of that guilt and that knee-jerk, you know, the way that we’ve framed our thinking as a broad society, global society even, to think of it as something frivolous and something extra as opposed to something that’s, you know, your potatoes. Ben Affleck’s Boston potatoes.
FK: [laughing] OK!
ELM: You know?
FK: I do know. I do know.
ELM: Anyway, these are some abstract thoughts and if you have thoughts—not you, Flourish, the listeners.
FK: Not me. My thoughts have already, I’ve had plenty of time to say my thoughts. No, but people should tell us and also we usually say this at the end of episodes, but I’m a little worried that people don’t always hear it at the end of episodes…
ELM: You think people just turn off the podcast in disgust at minute 20?
ELM: Yeah and then they come back another week to listen to the first 20 minutes.
FK: Maybe. But, however, we have a way that you can now call us and leave a voicemail and leave your comments. So, if you have something to say about this or anything that we say in this episode or previous episodes, you can just take out your phone and give us a call at 1-401-526-3267, that’s 1-401-526-FANS, and you can leave us a voicemail and we’ll play it on the podcast and respond to it. So. There we go. That’s the plug for that.
ELM: And, Flourish will make the hand gesture for a phone while she talks about it.
FK: Yeah, it’s the phone hand gesture! It’s important.
ELM: What’s the whole thing about how people under a certain age don’t have any context for that cause that’s not what phones look like?
FK: That’s not what phones look like any more.
ELM: Do a modern phone, like putting a—[laughs]—putting a flat…
FK: It’s putting a hand to your face.
ELM: Yeah, so, call us or if you don’t wanna say, speak out loud, obviously our gmail firstname.lastname@example.org is the best way to send something long. Tumblr, our ask box is open, and Twitter you can Tweet at us, though this is a complicated topic that requires more than 140 characters.
FK: OK. Should we call Tanya now?
ELM: Yeah, I think we should.
FK: Let’s do it.
FK: OK, I think it’s time to welcome Tanya to the podcast! Hooray, welcome Tanya!
Tanya DePass: Hello, how are you?
ELM: Good! Thanks so much for coming on.
TD: Thank you for inviting me, I’m so excited, I get to talk about fan stuff! I don’t get to do this often.
ELM: Yay! OK. We get to do this very often, so.
FK: So it’s refreshing to have somebody else be like “WOO!” and we’re like, old and jaded.
ELM: We’re like, “Ehhhh, fandom, ughhh.”
TD: Well, fandom itself is making me old and jaded but to come and talk to other people about it on a podcast is way more fun!
ELM: [laughing] Than actually participating in it…
FK: To get us started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your fandomy life?
TD: OK. So my fandomy life is majority Bioware fandom, I’m a big nerd for Bioware, I’m actually wearing a Tevinter shirt while we’re recording. I got into Dragon Age and stuff a few years ago, got into Mass Effect later, I’m very much into video game related fandoms, I write a lot of fanfic for those fandoms, I have a lot of words on Archive Of Our Own, last time I checked it was over 3,000,000, a lot of that is co-writing with other people, but I’ve been writing fanfic for quite a while under the fanfiction.net profile that hopefully no one ever finds again. [all laugh] That is the angsty teen stuff that I am shamed to admit ever existed. I actually wrote Power Rangers fanfic.
TD: So I’m actually really kind of nerdily excited that two of the original Rangers are coming to C2E2 this year. [all laugh]
FK: That thing when you see a Power Ranger and you’re like [gasp]
TD: Very much so! Because David Yost and Walter, who played the Blue and Black Rangers, are coming to C2E2 so I was just super excited cause I loved Billy SO much as a teenager and a young adult.
ELM: As an aside, are people excited about this new Power Rangers? I just saw the trailer. People are not excited about it.
TD: I’m like, it’s Power Rangers, why are we doing the grimdark thing? Why?
ELM: Yeah, it just looked like…I mean, I saw it before the last Star Wars and it was like, every movie looked, every trailer, the haunted—you know, the child singing a grunge song or whatever that seems to be going on in every trailer right now? You know what I’m talking about. Anyway, aside finished. Please continue. [all laugh]
TD: I have zero, I have less than zero hopes about it. If anybody like wants me to write about it, cause kind of I have that—and I was actually a little too old for the original one if that, depending on the demographic, but I’m a big nerd! I like this! And I was really into Japanese culture and I wanted to see it. And so I’m also really into “Mafia III,” and I’ve been dabbling and thinking about “Mafia III” fanfic cause on the one hand the game is super serious, but there is a fandom for it, and there’s actually a lot of fanfic for “Mafia III.”
FK: Really? I had no idea! I’ve never encountered it.
TD: I will send you links once we are done talking! So Lincoln Clay and Donovan, his CIA friend who’s his informant for the game and for all the people that you eventually go hunt down and murder [all laugh] a lot of people ship them, and people also ship Lincoln and Cassandra, who’s one of the people—first people you encounter in the game, and you rescue her, and she becomes one of your lieutenants. So of the hetero ships it’s Lincoln and Cassandra, and this one woman you see for maybe 40 seconds, where they kinda hint at “Oh, Lincoln might like her,” and that’s really the only interaction they have, cause then he gets shot and survives and goes on to kill everybody. So there’s a really interesting kind of shipping mechanic for “Mafia III” which surprised me.
And it’s a little weird cause I’ve interviewed some of the people who worked on “Mafia III,” so like, if you hear this, don’t be weird at me if I write fanfic for your game…but yeah, I’m really into video game related fandoms, a lot of TV related fandoms haven’t grabbed me enough to want to either fic for them or the fandom itself is just like, you know, I'm just gonna enjoy the media, I’m not gonna interact with you, I’m not gonna…I’m just gonna be in my corner and I’m gonna watch things like Sherlock and just pretend the fandom does not exist.
ELM: I’m from the Sherlock fandom and I feel the same way.
TD: Yeeeeah. I’m getting there about Dragon Age about now because I think, “Inquisition” is what, two, three years out of the box, and with no hint as to what’s coming next I think fandom’s getting a little restless, so I’m just like, you know, “I have my games, I have my fanfiction, I’m OK! I’m good. I’m just gonna chill over here.”
ELM: But so then, your fandom also intersects with your professional…you have a podcast and various projects, so, I wonder if you wanna go in a little bit.
TD: Sure. My love of gaming and love of seeing myself in these media and things like that intersects with what I do. I do have a podcast as well, it’s called “Fresh Out Of Tokens,” it’s a weekly show. We’re talking about feminism, intersectionality, I try to talk to people who are doing interesting meaningful things in games, not just AAA folks, not just the “big names,” quote-unquote, because there’s a lot of people making really cool indie things that may not be out there yet or I may have come across it thanks to Tumblr or Twitter, and those are the folks I wanna talk to. Because you have this cool game and you’re doing stuff, but for some indies you either don’t get coverage or people don’t care till the game’s actually out, and getting that pre-build, pre-release interest is really important as well. I just talked to someone who's making a [?] game and they’re just really excited, and I saw just the art for it and I was like “I must know more about this game,” because it’s really cool.
So I do that, I have a weekly show, and then I run a nonprofit called I Need Diverse Games, which took about two-and-a-half years from a hashtag when I was legit angry about games at six in the morning. [all laugh] I was. I was just literally angry about games at six in the morning in October 2014. Cause I think it was the whole “too hard to animate women” thing, and inches from playable women was crossing my streams again, and I was just like, “I’m so sick of this. I’m so freaking tired of it.”
FK: Remind us, remind us of too hard to animate women? Cause I remember this scandal but I’m not sure all our listeners will.
ELM: Not a reminder for me! Please educate me about these things that you just mentioned.
TD: I think it was “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” was either going to come out or was shown at E3 that year, or something, and it was literally the same four white dudes in different color clothes and people were like “Gemale assassin? Maybe?” They’d had the Sony portable, Vida, game, with Aveline, not Aveline from Age, Aveline de Grandpré, and she’d been in a Vida game and everything. So you clearly know how to put women in your games, so people were just not happy with the fact that for the most part Assassin’s Creed had been good with historical accuracy and things like that but they’d not had a female character or anything like that, and it was just the “It’s too hard to animate women.” Which turned out to be ridiculous, because I think someone who used to work at the studio was like, we used the same wireframe, the same “male” quote-unquote wireframe for Aveline—so it’s not that you can’t do it. So it just made me angry. Granted I don’t make games, I’m not a dev, it just seemed like a really BS excuse not to do it.
I was angry about that and then there was, “Far Cry 4” was coming out and they said they were “inches from a playable character” for a female character, and I was just…I’m done. I’m so angry. And those kind of excuses to me as someone who admittedly knew far less about the industry then, made me angry. I threw the hashtag on a few tweets, now, Mikki Kendall, known as Karnythia, follows me, we’ve been friends for years. She retweeted me and when someone with 30,000 Twitter followers shares your tweets, it kinda gets a lot more legs, and between that angry 6 a.m. tweetstorm and getting to work it was trending.
TD: That was interesting cause I’d never had that happen.
ELM: That’s amazing!
TD: Yeah, so she actually called me at work, she was like “Whatever you’re doing right now, you need to go get block bots, because people have found your tweets.” And by “people” we know what kind of people we’re talking about.
ELM: And October 2014 was when GamerGate was coming to, actually hitting the mainstream news too, right? That had obviously been going on for quite some time.
TD: Yeah, I just try to avoid mentioning them by name cause it’s like Candyman, they show up every time.
FK: Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.
ELM: Do you want me to erase mention of…there was a period where we weren’t allowed to, cause I’m a journalist, and we’re not going to mention them cause they have it in for us. But we found that it’s died down for us, but it probably hasn’t died down for people within actual gaming communities as opposed to journalists, I’m assuming.
TD: It’s been long enough where we see now they’ve moved on to other things. That same community has now kind of gotten away from games. Now it’s in politics. And…
ELM: Great, great.
TD: Anything else where they feel like they’re disenfranchised, which that could be a whole other podcast unto itself. But yeah, that was a big part of it, it drew their attention, there’s a lot of things I didn’t need to know existed in terms of memes and gifs that I got to see in my Twitter feed. So I gave I Need Diverse Games its own Twitter feed, created a Tumblr, it became its own thing, and surprisingly the conversation continued. People wanted to keep talking about diversity and inclusion and so I started to get interviewed, I started to have a chance to write about this and do panels, and it grew from there. You know what, it’s cool to be able to do things if we get Patreon supporters and we did, but unfortunately December 2015 I lost my day job, and I’d been waffling about doing this full time, cause it’s scary. You can’t just up and quit your job…but hey, losing the job gave me that impetus!
So now I Need Diverse Games is a nonprofit. We’re not yet a charity but we are a 501(c)(3) because ticky boxes are confusing on government forms [all laugh] so we’re in the process of getting reclassified as a charity, because then we can collaborate a lot more with companies and people can do matching programs. But we can still take donations! So that’s what we’re doing, we’re part of the GDC scholarship program so we get to send 25 people to the Game Developers Conference every year, and I’m working with Xbox in the Gaming For Everyone program as well. So we are collaborating with folks and getting more diversity out there.
And I’ve had a chance to go talk about diversity at studios, at universities. I actually had a chance to give a talk at Ubisoft, which was kind of hilarious considering that's kind of where the impetus came from for my angry tweeting. [FK laughs]
ELM: That’s fantastic. Do you, have you found since you started this that the attitudes within the industry are changing? I know we’re supposed to be talking about fandom more than the people creating this stuff, but do you feel like they’re actually listening and actually maybe—you don’t have to be as frank as you might wanna be.
TD: People are listening and the, what I’ve found is that there have been people doing the work behind the scenes that fans would never know about. Sometimes it’s like, people are doing what they can quietly, behind the scenes, because one, we see what garnering attention happens, especially if you try to be more public about it. And two, the people making the games are gonna be the ones that can effect most change. I am a fan of games and I’m part of the industry now and I do have that privilege to talk to people who have that access, like going to GDC and things like that. But fandom unto itself is not going to effect change unless there’s a critical shift in thinking about games as an art form and as a medium that has value beyond just strictly entertainment.
And that’s where I think a lot of people are stuck, because they’re so tied to “This is supposed to be fun. I’m supposed to just be able to play a game where I shoot a bunch of brown people and have no consequences,” or “play things where black people are total stereotypes,” or “women are easily killed off for the main dude protag’s motivation,” and not think about the fact that media does not exist in a vacuum. It has a relation. So if I am constantly exposed to games where I don’t get to exist, or I get to exist only as a plot point and then I get killed, or I’m a stereotype like “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” the black character sounds like a [?] cartoon, that has an effect on you. And representation is important, not just for small children, but for everyone, because at some point you go “OK, this is not for me.” Which is why a lot of people of color, a lot of LGBT folks, feel disenfranchised from fandom and that’s why you go you know what, we’re gonna make our own, but when we make our own, nobody’s happy then either.
FK: Yeah, for sure.
ELM: Also I feel like the barrier to entry for making a game is so much higher than, say, I’m coming from the book world, and you can say “Oh, if you don’t like what you see you can write your own,” and it’s not easy to write a book, but…you know. I don’t know. I just feel like, the idea of making a video game just seems so, maybe it’s not that hard, but it just seems very hard to me.
TD: Well, it depends what you're talking about. Obviously no one person can go out and make a big AAA title, but there’s Twine, there’s Inkle, there are ways to make simple narrative games where it can be a point and click text game and that can be what you do. Unity is free for people learning, and there’s Udemi, where they have online courses that are actually affordable where people can sit down and learn Unity. There’s a lot of initiatives like Black Girls Code, it's held in Montréal, other place that are teaching people that wanna learn. So the barrier can still be high, depending on what it is you’re looking to do, but if you can write, you can sit down and make a Twine game.
ELM: Huh, all right. It’s more accessible than I thought. All right great. Maybe I’ll go become a game developer—no, I won’t.
TD: Go do it!
ELM: No, no, gotta go write a book first.
TD: OK, write a book, then write a book about becoming a game developer.
ELM: MY JOURNEY.
FK: This is funny cause this actually relates back to some of the stuff that I’ve been really curious about with fanfiction, right. So for a while I was really into the idea of “Why don’t we get fanfic people to make text games?” Because I’m, in my other life I’m really into interactive fiction, you know. I’m—
ELM: It’s not really your other life! You’re one whole person, Flourish.
FK: But I don’t talk about it on this podcast much.
ELM: Yeah, that’s true.
FK: So, anyway, for awhile I was really like “Why don’t we get everybody to make text games?!” and I made text games for Yuletide like three or four times, and then it was interesting because I think there’s not as much fanfic that—or games that are fanfic-y. Like, people tend to make their own original games, I feel like, instead of making fanfic games. And I still haven’t quite entirely figured that out. There are some obviously, I’ve made a bunch of fanfic games and I know other people who have, but I don’t know.
TD: Well, I have a thought about that. One, if you’re talking about playing in someone else's IP. Fanfic unto itself is like, as long as you’re not profiting off it or something like that, but making a game based off fic…and also it’s a different structure, because I found this out when I tried to sit down and make a Twine game. You have to really think about connections and kind of if X happens it must connect to A, B, C, D choice, and you have to be much more concise. There’s no real easy way to go back and edit something that either you get too wordy, you get too verbose, because someone playing a Twine game isn’t going to sit there and read through like 200 lines of one section. You wanna go “OK, I made this choice, it goes to this branch, I have to make sure it makes sense to come back to the other branch, how do I make this all connect and make sense.”
As someone who writes a lot of fic I can always go back and edit something I’ve written if either it doesn’t make sense or it’s a little wordy or doesn’t quite line up. But sitting there branching out and making sure you don't get scope creep in something like a Twine game or anything else, you have to really think in a different way. You have to think about different structure, and so it’s one thing to take your own words and maybe go “OK, maybe I can use Twine to plot out a fic,” because you’re never gonna publish it, but then it’s like, how do you backward engineer that into prose.
TD: But I think a lot of it is more concern about, if I make a game based off a property that’s not mine, is someone gonna sue me? Which is why I think some people are really weird about fanfic commissions versus commissioning fanart. And granted this may make some people angry with me—I always feel weird about when I see these people offering fic commissions versus art commissions, partially cause I can write my own fic. But it’s just like, you’re getting paid to play in someone else’s sandbox, with words…I don’t know. This is my own personal hangup, I think. But I don’t know, it’s just…
FK: Maybe the history of the communities, right.
ELM: We talked about that a lot. And our listeners have had a variety of opinions. Some of them I thought were a little flimsy, like…I shouldn’t throw anyone under the bus. But people were saying, like, “Art supplies cost money, and writing doesn’t,” and I don’t know. That’ts not…but I think it’s partly, I think what you’re saying is not just you. A lot of people feel that way. But I think it’s partly that we devalue how much work writing is in general, which, you know.
TD: Oh, it is. Or podcasting or Twitch streaming or something like that, because a lot of times when I talk about the podcast and when we close it’s like “Hey, support us on Patreon,” because you get to listen for free…it’s not free for me to create the podcast. And you know that and even if you have your own site, that’s still $20 a year, whatever you’re paying for your domain. There’s still some cost associated with participating in fandom, being a content creator, yes art supplies cost money, [?] are not cheap, things like that, but there’s still a time and cost value that people don’t think about. They think “Oh you’re just doing it for fun, draw me what you want,” and it’s like, I’ve seen people who are professional artists undervalue themselves in fan communities. So I’m not sure what it is, because if I’m still sitting down to write a 2,000 word fic, that’s still time I could be doing something else and getting paid for it.
ELM: Sure. And also, I think there’s…not to go too much down this rabbit hole but I feel like I wish I could remember who the wording of this, so I could dig up this post, but I saw one that was a fanartist and they were like “I wish I could draw like you,” and they were like “I practiced for 10 years.” They were like, “Yeah, but…” and then they were like “No, literally, I’ve been practicing for 10 years.” And I think sometimes we think with writing, “Oh, you sit down and do it,” but it’s like, you’re practicing! You’re building that skill over time. I could sit here for the next 10 years and practice drawing and I think I could be a pretty good artist, right? I mean, I don’t know. I took drawing in college, my mom’s [laughs] a professional artist, maybe I could try to channel some of that. But it just seems so much harder than certain other forms of fan creativity. Which…
TD: Yeah, and I think I know who you’re talking about, I think it was Euclase.
ELM: Was it Euclase, who has the best responses of any fanartist world ever? A delight.
TD: I love Euclase! I love her so much.
ELM: I’ll hunt that.
FK: I think this is interesting though cause it also gets to the question of the sort of porosity of the boundaries between fan and pro in different communities. Because I feel like there is a big difference—
FK: Porosity. I think it is an actual word.
ELM: Porousness, Flourish. Porousness.
FK: I like porosity. I’m sticking with porosity from now on just to show you. [ELM laughs] But I think different media have different fan and pro interactions, and it’s, I think it’s very different between, like, even between the YA novel space and the literary novel space, and TV and film, and games, there’s different interactions in that way. So I guess I’m curious about how you see that, because you’re obviously, you’ve been in different fandoms for different media and have seen the way that the fan and pro interaction happens.
TD: Ooh, fan and pro interaction. So, I think it’s interesting cause with video games, more so, with things like PAX and now E3 reopening to the public, there’s more option for a fan to interact with a creator publicly. You know? And obviously there’s Twitter and if people are on Tumblr, whatever. But I think, and this is my own bitterness coming out and I freely admit this, I think there’s a lot of entitlement and demanding upon creators for…I have now set upon this headcanon, or this is how I want this game to be…I see it a lot in my work. A bad example of this is last year’s Game Developers Conference Patrick Weeks and John Epler gave a talk about the narrative design and narrative way they worked through Trespasser. And I live tweeted it, it’s GDC—they’re not gonna penalize you for that, and then the video’s out later. And I’m live-tweeting it and ladyinsanity was following along and tweeting and she with permission she put my tweets in a post.
And I had every Solas stan on the planet coming after me about what was not even my words. And then people tweeting at me, replying to the tweets about “This is bullshit!” or whatever, it got to the point where people were tagging Epler, Weeks, me, the Bioware twitter, the Dragon Age twitter, and it’s just like, this is a professional conference that I'm tweeting, and this is not the time for your fan rage! Because A, “Trespasser” is done, it’s in the can, nobody’s changing anything. We don’t know what’s planned for next game or if we’ll see a next game anytime soon. But those are the kind of interactions where I’m just like, I don’t see how any of the people in the industry stay in the industry, or why they don’t just lock their account or don’t respond to fans, because it’s tiring. And, you know, what’s done is done.
I actually just saw a post today, before we recorded, about someone having the theory that Bioware stole Fenris from a fanmod from “Awakenings.” Yeah, I had that look too [in reference to Flourish and Elizabeth’s expressions]. And one of my friends used to work at EA, really wrote a good response and debunked it. Because even though I’m part of this industry, we still don’t know the length of a development cycle, especially for a big property like Dragon Age. It’s like, “They stole Fenris.” And it’s like, “This game has been out how many years ago and this is just now surfacing—really?” That’s my response. It’s not like they’re gonna go “Oh oops, we stole this thing!” Because A, I’m 99.9, 100% sure they did not cause that’s just a ridiculous claim. But things like that where it’s just like, “You do know someone from Bioware’s probably eventually gonna see this.” [all laugh] And that’s just ridiculous.
But it’s the way people interact and I know someone’s gonna think it’s tone policing but if I’m a dev, and a fan screams and yells at me on Twitter, I’m not going to respond. I’m probably gonna block them and move on because there’s a way to interact with people. And you know, I get it too. If I retweet devs or if I interact with devs or if we have them on the show, and didn’t get a lot of negative response, but there are people like “Oh my God how did you even talk to him?” and blah blah blah and like…cause he wrote a character that I’m a fan of! And he agreed to be on my show! So there’s this idea that “I don’t like this dev, I don’t like this person,” or “I don’t like this franchise, how dare you interact with it,” well, sorry! It sucks to be you. You have the right not to listen to stuff that you don’t like. And I think that’s where a lot of the fan fail comes from, because there’s…yes, you put it out in the world, yes fans interact with it, we’ve consumed it, but it’s still not your property. If that makes sense.
TD: And yes, I respect everyone’s headcanon, their shipping, whatever—I take that back, ‘two ships I don’t like but I’m not gonna mention them cause I don’t want people in my mentions. [all laugh]
FK: Don’t at her!
TD: NO! I bought that pin! I’m waiting for it to arrive. But you know, there are things where just, people get so wrapped up in what they feel the game should have been that they go…they get, what’s the right word, I don’t wanna say “irrational” cause that’s very reductive and insulting. But they just won’t listen to anyone else where it’s like, “I hear what you said, have your headcanon, I’m happy for you to do so, but don’t yell at me!” Or don’t yell at the devs cause their actual canon doesn’t reflect what you want. We saw that with “Overwatch.”
FK: Mm-hmm. Yeah. For sure. Well it's interesting because it seems to me just hearing you talk about this, and I guess I sort of knew this but maybe never fully crystallized it, that devs in gaming fandoms are much more accessible than people who work on your favorite TV show, right? Or maybe people know more about the different roles that different devs play? Whereas I think for most people, if you talk about the different roles on a shoot or people in development for a TV show they don’t necessarily know all of that. They know the actors.
ELM: People talk about it in much more like a monolith. The powers, you know, this vast…I feel like people in comics, it seems like it’s more analogous in the sense that people know…I don’t think people know exactly about the structures, but people know these are the people working on this title and these people work for this part of DC or whatever.
FK: They know the inker is not responsible for this or that, right.
ELM: Well, this brings up a, I’d really like to know your perspective on this, because this brings up an eternal question, something that I’ve written a fair bit about in my journalism. For example, and I think what you’re talking about extends, this is analogous to so many things in all sorts of fandom. It sounds like, the dynamics you’re talking about are very similar to how people feel about their ships in TV shows or whatever, or their fan-creator interaction. So like, the question I’m always grappling with and trying to explain to people is—say, for example, do you remember last summer that bad bad line of journalism coming out that said that the people who were attacking Leslie Jones were entitled fans? Did you see any of these garbage articles?
TD: I did and I made a face cause, yeah. I know what you’re talking about.
ELM: Very quick context, Leslie Jones was the victim of these horrific sexist and racist attacks, orchestrated though—he claims he didn’t do anything—by a certain former Breitbart editor that we’re not going to name on this podcast. And there seemed to be this desire from, this certain realm of I would say—to generalize—white dude affirmational fandom that thinks that anyone talking back to a creator is an entitled fan, whether you are being a racist jackass to someone putting diverse, a diverse cast in, or the opposite. So I guess my question is, though, one of the things I always get hung up on is often you are using the same methods to, you know, if I wanna talk back to a creator, right, how do I—how do I unpack this idea of, I want content creators to be held to account when it comes to things like, you know, sexism and racism and homophobia. But how do you separate that out from being a respectful fan and not shouting at them or…obviously I don’t advocate shouting at them, but…
FK: Sometimes you totally shout at them Elizabeth, don’t lie.
ELM: I shout—this is a very privileged position because I can shout at them in an article [FK laughs] that thousands of people will read where I’ll be like “You should be ashamed of yourself.” But I wonder how to separate all this out and I’m wondering if you have any feelings about this.
TD: Oh, do I have feelings, how much time do we have.
ELM: Hit me, I’m ready! [laughs]
TD: So a lot of it, I think, as much as I hate the word, it’s gonna come down to tone and approach. It’s two things: it’s on the fan side, it’s tone and approach, and I always bring this up with—in my case, let’s say I’m not a big fan of Vivienne or Sera in Dragon Age. Sera is the first lesbian character, not bi, not bi-curious, she’s lesbian, that’s it. And I’m not a fan of Vivienne because while we finally get a dark-skinned black character she’s still very much a trope. And there’s a way for me to go to Bioware and go, “Hey, you know what, I played ‘Inquisition,’ have some thoughts about this character and representation, can I talk to you about it,” versus getting on Twitter, getting on Tumblr, and going “Oh my God you racist assholes how could you do this?” or “You’re homophobic!” Or people who called David Gaider homophobic for writing Dorian when he’s a gay dude.
I think it’s, again, in approach, and there’s a way to express your hurt and express your feelings and this is very tone police-y, I’m aware of that. But it’s also how you're going to get a response versus just getting blocked on Tumblr or Twitter or whatever. I think a lot of people decide “This is public, your Twitter is public, you;re available, therefore I can say and speak—I can say and do what I want with no consequence, and I’m the fan, I own you, I own this, I made it what it is,” which is true, if there’s no fans of the thing then it’s not going to flourish, but you also literally don’t own the property, you don’t sign this person’s paycheck. So I think it’s finding a way to interact either tweeting at someone going “Hey I’ve got feedback on a game” or “I’ve got feedback on a character, is there a way to respond,” because remember Bioware shut down their forums, which I am really happy about.
On the creator side it’s being willing to listen. Unfortunately a lot of the bad signal to noise comes through and fans that scream and yell, and I would even hesitate to call them “fans” at that point, the people who are acting entitled get through because they’re so much louder and they don’t stop tweeting at someone, they find other ways to message them, or if I mention someone—like I mentioned medievalpoc in a tweet and someone who didn’t like them decided that was their moment to shine and go take them down and yell at them and I’m like “I just mentioned them. Leave me alone.”
FK: “UNTAG ME FROM THIS PLEASE.”
TD: That was literally it and they kept going and then they DMed me. I don’t know if they unfollowed me or not. But I just literally said, “Medievalpoc was just mentioned, stop.”
ELM: You have your DMs open?!
TD: OH GOD NO. This was a mutual at the time.
ELM: I was gonna say I was like, “Oh shit.”
TD: Oh no. No. Mm-mm, no. I don’t care, Satan could come down and be like “Open your DMs,” I’d be like “Nah I’m good, not today Satan, never, not with the work I do and not with fandom I’m in, never!” [all laugh]
FK: So this is really interesting cause it sounds to me like you’re saying basically that there’s the issue of tone policing, which is about people’s emotions, but then there’s the issue of strategy and how to get your concerns heard, and these are two things. [laughs]
TD: Exactly. And I’m trying to think of the best way to phrase this cause I know no matter how I phrase it someone's going to take issue with it because fandom. You know, if you are able to go to things like PAX and devs are there and there’s a chance to chat with them, that’s a time to go “Hey, I’m a really big fan of your work, is there a way to contact you?” Cause at a convention there’s no time to sit down and have a beer with anybody. But you know, or, “I saw concept art about X and as a fan or part of this group I’m concerned,” again, “is there a way I can contact you,” or “are you open to feedback.”
And for creators the main thing is listen. Don’t get your emotions in a bunch. Because someone may not like something you created. No work is perfect. You know that, but it seems like once things get out in public, and people respond to it, some creators just literally don’t know how to respond. They don’t know how to act, they get in their feelings, and they act like someone told them they were gonna come murder them because they don’t like the character they created. So it’s “Be open to feedback. Be willing to listen.”
And the other thing is, for those that are creating, be it games, comics, whatever, think about diversity consultants, because a lot of things happen because the room is full of a bunch of white dudes or a bunch of white dudes and white women. And you have no people of color, you have no out LGBT folks, you have no one to run this by and go “is this problematic? Did we fuck up?”
FK: “How do dreads work?”
TD: LOOK. [all laugh] You’re talking about those tweets yesterday aren’t you!
FK: No, I’m—one of my, I’m friends with a guy who, Fox Harrell, who basically has done a lot of engagement with the “Morrowind,” “Oblivion”—Elder Scrolls series, words, and I was really, and particularly around this, so I was thinking of this because he came at them a little bit about this in some academic articles and then they, he was talking about the Redguard and how this fantasy race is problematic in a lot of ways and then when the next game came out he has a very striking appearance, and they made the default Redguard look exactly like him.
TD: Oh my God.
FK: Cause he’s a light-skinned black guy with naturally bright red hair and really long locks, so like… [laughs] It was the most petty shit I think I had ever seen.
ELM: That’s extraordinary. What did he do?
FK: It was the most extraordinarily petty shit I have ever seen. So I was just thinking about this, I’m like…
ELM: Did he write more academic articles?
FK: Oh yeah, he’s kept talking about it and so just thinking about, this is like a perfect example of this kind of, like, weird interaction.
TD: Yeah. One of the things, and this is public knowledge, I had a chance to sit down with Patrick Weeks last year at GDC, we had some downtime, and I just talked to him about Vivienne and Giselle and—for those who don’t know these characters I'm talking about, Vivienne is the knight enchanter in your party in “Dragon Age: Inquisition.” She is black, she is dark-skinned, she is very regal, but she’s still the strong black woman sassy trope, a lot of fans immediately latched on to sassy, which… [sighs] Mmm. Brown people and sassy, no, stop, fandom, stop! And Dorian too. Like, sassy Vivienne and Dorian sassy 2k, no.
FK: [laughing] You can just imagine, I can’t. I’m glad I’m not in the fandom, because the first thing I thought of was somebody has made a version of RuPaul’s Drag Race or something where they’re going off and doing this together and holy shit I’m so glad I’m not in this fandom.
TD: I’m sure it exists and I may have not seen it. But like, people kept doing the whole Dorian and Vivienne will dress you, the gay man with fashion sense thing, and, whoo. So, back to what I was talking about. So with creators, and listening, you know, it was really good to sit down with Patrick but I'm aware that was a very privileged thing for me to be at the Game Developers Conference and have time to sit down with this man. But you know, he listened, and Patrick and Kevin were guests of honor at GaymerX 4 and they used their guest of honor slot to sit down and listen to us fans. They literally were taking notes of all the things that we brought up. There’s no ace or aro representation. Can brown people come from somewhere besides Antiva and Rivain? The evolution of Krem came from fan feedback. If you have the chance to talk to creators they will listen, it’s just how you talk to them.
And I know Bioware fandom in particular has a really nasty reputation, I’m a big Bioware fan but I’m very well aware of the fact that they’re much better on LGBT stuff than they are on race, and hopefully they will get better, hopefully they will listen, and I know Kevin and Patrick took that stuff back with them, so it’s being aware of when they are listening and giving as good as you get and then if you come out and yell at a creator and scream at them and talk about “they’re racist, homophobic,” and forget intent, forget most creators are a bunch of white people and they don’t know any better—that doesn’t excuse them, not knowing any better, or doing any better, but that’s the case in a lot of studios especially AAA spaces.
FK: This is really reinforcing for me how different and how much more collaborative it sounds like game creators are with their fandoms. Sometimes. I mean, as compared to TV or movies. Right? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of, and this might not be true, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a person who’s working in TV sitting down and having, you know, a session where their fans give them critiques and commentary on this stuff. So it’s really interesting and it makes me wonder whether…I mean I know that games have many many problems but…
ELM: Or at a con! Can you imagine being at a con and they’re like, “How bout all the questions are people come up and give us critiques,” right? I cannot imagine movie and TV people doing that.
TD: No, they couldn’t do it.
FK: I mean I think partially this also has to do with the structures of the industries and the way that, who gives you notes and who gets to make those choices, but…
ELM: I just feel like you’re making games sound better than—which surprised me!—than a lot of the media that I normally am writing about. But like, I think that you’ve seen over and over again these creators just doubling down. “I’m not racist!” And just curling up in a shell and acting like all critique is the same. It’s like they’re being pummeled by the same forces whereas, I don’t know, it’s tricky cause I don’t wanna be tone police-y too obviously but…but…I worry that for some of them they’re lost and they’re never gonna be able to listen to any criticism, they’re gonna be like “You’re so PC!”
TD: So about that. [all laugh] So one of the things that, and I talk about this a lot across fandoms just across everything, is that what I’ve seen, for me, and this applies more to when I talk about US politics right now, especially when I mention white women who voted for the president, I get a lot of “I didn’t vote for him! How dare you! I’m not a racist!” and I was like, “Did I call you a racist?” [all laugh] And if you didn’t vote for him, I wasn’t talking about you. And I think we’ve gotten to the point where more people are, they are so defensive and so afraid of being called a racist versus actually considering what they’re doing as a racist action because of the society that we’re raised in, that it’s hard to get people to listen.
I actually just talked about this the other day on Twitter where I got frustrated because I talked about the women’s marches. I can’t march, one mobility issues and two, I’m black in Chicago. I’m not tryin to go get arrested. I would like to live. Yeah, I said it. I live here, I can talk about Chicago police. People who don’t live here can't really talk about it, especially our president, but that’s a whole other thing. But I had tweeted about it and talked about the ways in which a lot of the women’s movements, a lot of white feminism or feminism in general, is very white-centric, very cis-centric, et cetera, and immediately I got someone “Well I didn’t vote for Trump!” I was like “Wasn’t talking about you.” They went on to say that “Women like you are why Trump won.” And I was just like, “What?” The gears literally screeched to a halt. And I was like, “One, I wasn’t talking about you in particular, you don’t follow me, I don’t know where you came from,” but this idea that if I do not explicitly say “not all white women,” “not all white people,” “not all fill-in-the-blank,” or if I don’t say “I’m not calling you a racist but what you did was a racist thing,” it’s like people just, they shut down and they can’t hear it and this weird idea of too PC, PC culture, is the same people that were already there as the groundwork to GGers and the alt-right, neo-Nazis and whatever we're calling them or not calling them these days.
They have always been there. And the rise of the nerd bro, the tech bro, that usually rich white dude or well off white dude in tech-centric places, and this whole idea that you can’t criticize them you can’t say anything, a lot of that feeds back into what we’re seeing now which is you cannot have a discourse you cannot have an honest intellectual conversation about these issues and say “This representation is bad and here’s why.” Or “That was a racist thing you did slash said, but I know we’re raised in a racist, patriarchal et cetera society in the US and you literally have never been forced to confront this until now so now you don’t know how to discuss it,” that’s probably the very idea that someone can be construed at racist is so horrifying to them, they rail against that, versus stepping aside from their feelings and going, “You know, that was bad. I fucked up. I messed up. I was not critical in my thinking.” That’s where we have to get people to think, cause…
Like, I wrote a piece for Offworld. I talked about race and racism in Dragon Age across all three games. Someone read it and all they took out of that was I didn’t like Mother Giselle. Who is a black Mother of the Chantry and the issue I had with her is that she’s very much the black homophobic racist trope. She’s the one that wants you to betray Dorian to his family. There’s very much a disconnect between “Here is the thing I’m telling you as a part of this group that this is problematic and here’s why,” versus “No no I’m not a racist, I don’t condone this!” You’re not listening to me. And that lack of listening, that lack of ability to go, you know, “I’m racist not because I’m actively going out in a hood and burning crosses, is because this is the society I’ve been raised in, I’ve been told that I have X value, I am above and beyond everyone else, and so this value’s been placed upon me,” and we can’t talk about privilege because people immediately jump to “I’m not rich” and it’s like “No, that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s why I said specifically white privilege.”
So a lot of it comes down to getting stuck on that and then the whole conversation’s lost, and that applies to feminism, politics, fandom, a lot of things are going on in Dragon Age fandom right now and people don’t know how to act. Well, it’s a day ending in Y so Dragon Age fandom doesn’t know how to act anyway [all laugh]. So a lot of it comes down to critical engagement and the ability to do so and people just don’t wanna do that I’m finding.
ELM: Yeah. I think we’re running out of time but I have one question before we go, and this is—with a full disclosure that I'm not trying to say “Well our other gaming guest said this and you said this,” blah blah blah, but one thing I’m picking up from our conversation with you is it sounds like…when I talked with Evan I felt like we were in different worlds, which sometimes if I talk to someone who collects action figures I also feel like we’re in different worlds. It’s just a different corner of fandom. But the way you talk about video game fandom is so familiar to me as a fanfiction person who writes about Harry Potter, whatever.
I’m curious, one thing that really struck us with Evan and we got feedback about this too, is he was saying that video game people often don’t consider themselves fans or in fandom, they're gamers. It sounds like that’s not your experience at all and I wonder if we’re just talking about this kind of affirmational–transformational divide that we see across fandom, or if you think that sometimes you’re speaking a different language from other people in the game world or any of that. So.
TD: I think it’s, I think it's not true that…it’s just gamers and fans and fandom exists all disparately. They all cross because a lot of the fandom stuff I got into was because of video games. And I think there’s a lot more engagement with people who are into more narrative things, cause a lot of the fandom stuff I’ve seen is for more narrative-driven games, a lot of RPG stuff, but again, as we discussed earlier, there’s a fandom around “Mafia III” which is very much a let’s go shoot everything game. [all laugh] So I think we’re given these rich worlds, we’re given these sandboxes, and I don’t think it’s fair with respect to Evan to just silo gamers, fans, fandom. There is a lot of crossover and when people find meaning in the games that they’re engaging with they connect with characters, there’s a want to go further, because games are limited as a media. We only get however many hours of content we get. And there’s an idea to explore further, especially in terms of Mass Effect or Dragon Age, as my go to examples. Especially with Mass Effect. Cause you get Shepard across all three games. And there’s that wanting them to have a happy ending if you got the “Mass Effect 3” ending, depending on what you picked, or the previous game—I’m sorry Flourish. [all laugh] Flourish made sad face at the mention of “Mass Effect 3” ending. [Flourish whimpers]
Or you want, maybe you wanted Shepard to be with a character that doesn’t have a canon ship or something like that, where you get to explore and play in the sandbox and have the experience that maybe the game simply can’t give you. So I think very much there are fandoms across games, there are fandoms across all sorts of media. And those that really get into it, because I have friends that say, you know, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, other games literally saved their life. It pulled them out of a bad spot in their life or they found this character that they identified with and that they were able to, to see themselves in. Or they finally got the representation. Or a character made them realize something about themselves. That kind of connection, that kind of life affirming change, isn’t something that's limited to a movie or TV show or a book. When people fall in love with that media, when they fall in love with games or a character or a franchise, and they want to explore further, writing is I think a natural progression and fandom is a natural progression be it writing, fanart, podcasting, talking about it in some way, wearing merchandise—although that’s more of the consumer side of showing your love for it.
There is a fandom–gaming connection and look at all the communities that flourish because of it, look at Tumblr, AO3, all of the podcasts that are centered around certain games, Twitch communities that are just centered around Mass Effect or Dragon Age or things like that. There’s very much a very large fandom community based around games and with respect to Evan, sorry if you’re hearing this, I heartily disagree with you. [all laugh]
ELM: I think that that was a very game affirming answer, too. That feels like a really good note to end on.
FK: Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on; this has been awesome.
ELM: Yeah, it’s fantastic!
TD: You;re so welcome, and I would love to have you on “Fresh Out Of Tokens” and return the favor.
ELM: Am I still invited if I know nothing about games?
TD: Yes, of course!
ELM: YES! Cool.
TD: I mean we’ve had people on that do other media. It’s not like strictly “You don’t make games, you can’t come on.” No. Please! Come on! And we can talk more about fandom and stuff like that, because diversity intersectionality feminism—applies to games and game fandom and we can continue the conversation sparked by Evan, actually!
ELM: Excellent. I can’t wait! You let us know. So.
TD: Awesome. I will.
ELM: Thank you again and it was great to talk to you, I can’t wait to talk to you again!
TD: You’re so welcome and thank you for having me on.
FK: So that was the kind of conversation where we came in and I thought we were gonna talk about one thing and we ended up talking about way more interesting things than I thought.
ELM: What did you think we were gonna talk about?
FK: I’m not sure, but I think I was like [dopey voice] “Oh we’ll just talk about video games and what’s fun about them and stuff” and then it was like “NO! We’re not gonna do that! We’re gonna talk about way better stuff!” So.
ELM: I love your impersonation of past Flourish.
FK: Past Flourish is dumb.
ELM: [dopey voice] “We’re just gonna talk about games.”
FK: Yep. I’m like a slightly dopey muppet.
ELM: I was gonna say, like a cartoon dog.
FK: Oh my God that is so what I was! OK, OK. But but but.
FK: So one thing we didn’t talk with Tanya about was this email that we got.
ELM: Yeah! You know, it’s ironic that we’re telling people…maybe ironic is the wrong word. It’s funny that we’re telling people to write us emails when we received this email in like October and now we’re talking about it in February. To be fair—
FK: It was literally October.
ELM: It arrived about a week and a half before we jumped into this alternate timeline that we’re all living in. So. I think we have some grace period. And then when we came back to it, in the new year we’re going through our correspondence, we knew that we were gonna have Tanya on in the next few episodes, and because the email lined up so closely with what we were gonna talk to her about, we thought we’d hold off. So our apologies to grace_adieu, who is the author of this fantastic email, we are going to be publishing some of it on our Tumblr because it’s long and detailed and we don’t have time to read all of it now. So shall we read a little bit of it?
FK: Yeah, let’s do that.
ELM: You’re the official email reader.
FK: OK. So she says, “Rather than comparing female transformational fandom as a whole to male affirmational video game fandom, I would say that there’s a pretty distinctive split within the video game fandom between female transformational and male affirmational modes of engagement. The two most obvious differences I see between transformative video game fandom and other transformative fandoms are the decreased focus on rooting for ships to become canon and the increased focus on original characters, both of which seem to stem from the fact that the most popular video game fandoms tend to be for games with branching narratives and customizable protagonists. Being able to make your own player character and control their choices through the game, or at least control who they romance, means that unlike movies, TV, books, et cetera. There’s no one true canon but a wide range of possible canons. So while people have plenty of opinions about which romances are the best written or the most emotionally satisfying, there's no motivation to push one ship as being ‘the canon ship’ since in general the existence of other canonical ships poses no threat to the status of an individual's OTP. I can’t imagine there ever being a Harry/Hermione vs. Ron/Hermione ship war in the Dragon Age fandom, for example.”
ELM: Pause. One thing I would like to know from Grace or from anyone else is, I imagine there are still ship wars though. It’s just, it removes this kind of canonical stamp that tends to cause so much strife. I wonder how that plays out.
FK: Yeah. I do too. The few times that I’ve seen people arguing about ships it seemed to be more around, like, I don’t know, the kind of argument you might have between two ships that you know are never gonna be canon, right? Where you’re like well, those two characters aren’t good for each other. You know what I mean? But I don’t know, I haven’t read as much. I’ve barely read any in this space. So it would be interesting to hear from more people about this.
ELM: It’s interesting. I feel like in this day and age the ship war and the canon discussion has changed so much, I feel like you see less of the “two ships with no chance” kind of thing. OK. Continue. I just wanted to comment.
FK: OK OK OK. So next she says, “The structure of RPGs has led to the video game fandom being more interested in the creation of original characters. While some people choose to essentially replicate themselves in the world of the game, it’s common for people to take it as an opportunity to create entirely new characters. As a result you don’t see the same kind of stigma around original characters that you do in other fandoms, and you frequently encounter people who intensely develop their original characters’ lives and backstories via fic, fanart, short head canons and so forth. You also see fans interacting with other fans’ original characters by submitting Tumblr asks, creating fanart, and sometimes including them as side characters in their own fics.”
I think that's really interesting because it reminds me a lot of being into pen and paper roleplaying games where one of the major things people would do would be to draw art of other people’s original characters, write stories about them, much more original-character-focused. I mean of course in those cases everything is an original character, right, because it’s a pen and paper roleplaying game, you’ve all made up your own characters.
ELM: You feel like original characters are still stigmatized?
FK: In fandom?
FK: I think so.
ELM: Yeah, so many of them are just not very good characters. That’s bad. I’m judgey.
FK: I think they’re not stigmatized [when their role is] as secondary characters, but yeah, I think that when people have a point of view character as an original character, especially if there’s not a strong focus on another ship, you know. A canonical or widely loved ship. You can write a point of view character that’s like “This point of view character is gonna tell us about how,” I don’t know, “Tony and Cap get together…”
ELM: Right, right right right.
FK: That’s fine.
ELM: Endless focus on the ship.
FK: Mm-hmm. Anyway, there's a lot of other things that Grace wrote, so this was just a tiny sliver of it, but I was really grateful for the email because I felt like it brought up a lot of stuff that both informed our discussion with Tanya, having read it before we talked to her, and also to talk about in future episodes.
ELM: Totally, and I think part of it in the introduction too is talking about, let’s see. I think you started after this paragraph, but I think that part of this came from the conversation with Evan, just the last bit of our conversation with Tanya talking about whether there’s this split between affirmational, transformational fandom within video games. So I think that was part of what spurred this, because Evan was coming from one side, right.
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: But it sounds like Tanya is coming from the side that Grace is in.
FK: Yeah, completely, completely.
ELM: Though interestingly I wonder—and I’d be curious to know from anyone else who’s involved in video game fandom—Tanya seems to kind of straddle the parts too, seems reflective of like…I sometimes feel like there’s a big disconnect between affirmational and transformational shipping cultures, in like, say, certain television fandoms. So you have people who are creating a lot of fanworks and who are privileging the fanworks over the source material having conversations with people who are privileging their ship becoming canon in the text, you know.
ELM: It’s interesting because I wind up doing a lot of journalism about the people who are like, talking to creators and saying “fix this, make this better,” blah blah blah, “make my ship canon,” but it’s funny cause as a fan that’s not my side. And it sounds like Tanya kind of straddles both of those spaces, right.
ELM: Maybe inherently has to because of her role as someone who is actually speaking to and within the industry.
ELM: I don’t know. It’s interesting.
FK: Yeah, I think it’s good food for thought, and I think that this episode and this letter have sort of opened up my mind to the…a lot of times we end up having a thing where we talk about the industry’s interaction with fans, and this has really brought into my mind how different that can be with different genres, different…not just different genres but also different, what word am I looking for…
FK: Thank you! Media. Different media. I even have a degree in Comparative Media Studies.
ELM: That’s extraordinary.
FK: So this is particularly embarrassing.
ELM: I don’t know how they gave that to you.
FK: I don’t know either. Just, I guess I looked pretty.
FK: That was it. OK. [laughing]
ELM: Great, great.
FK: On that highly feminist note…
ELM: Yeah that’s right!
FK: I think we should wrap up? [all laugh]
ELM: Oh my God. Yes. We should wrap up. Before we go, just a gentle reminder that Fansplaining’s Patreon, that’s patreon.com/fansplaining, I said “Fansplaining’s Patreon” so I said them in the wrong order, is still open, still seeking donations, as little as a dollar a month you’ll get access to special content, tiny zines. If you have a lot of money and don’t want to give it to an organization directly fighting Donald Trump, Flourish will make you a Harry Potter sweater and you will be one of three people cause she’s about to give me mine!
FK: [laughs] There’s actually, there will be four people if that person comes, cause I knitted one for one other person other than you.
ELM: Oh my God, I’m not the first person to get one.
FK: You’re not the first person.
ELM: Podcast cancelled.
FK: I knitted it for my collaborator on a seven-year fanfiction project.
ELM: We could have done that.
FK: A seven-year fanfiction project?
ELM: Come on.
FK: You would have to post your fanfiction for us to do that, Elizabeth Minkel.
ELM: And I would also have to collaborate with a Snape/Hermione shipper which I’m not really interested in doing.
FK: [laughing] Fair enough!
ELM: I respect your ship but I don’t wanna collaborate with it!
FK: [riotously laughing] When you say it that way it makes “collaborator” sound like a Nazi thing!
ELM: That’s kind of how—no, I really don’t care about any ships in that way.
FK: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
ELM: Yes. All right fine. You’ll be number four of the Harry Potter sweater receivers. We’ll post a picture of me in my sweater when it finally is my Christmas present. In March.
FK: SHUT UP. Let’s end the episode now.
ELM: All right, fine!
FK: I’m turning bright red. I’m turning bright red, Elizabeth! [all laughing] I’ll talk to you later!
ELM: OK. Goodbye!
FK: [through laughter] Bye!
[Outro music, thank yous, and disclaimer]